Friday, March 12, 2010

Optimizing for the Long Tail - A Brief Overview

While it can be tempting for the SEO to focus on a few primary or “trophy” keywords, this ignores a significant chunk of all keyword referrals known as the long tail. The long tail is made up of those key phrases that are only searched a few times, but collectively make up a significant portion of searches.

Graph of the Long Tail

Those trailing keywords, which can be thousands or tens of thousands strong, are actually responsible for far more traffic than the head keywords because of their sheer numbers. Bill Tancer of Hitwise concluded they make up nearly 90 percent of search traffic.

Clearly, the long tail should not be ignored in optimization. Should an SEO attempt to focus on thousands of individual keywords? Returns diminish quickly when optimizing for too many keywords. Even a thousand is too many to effectively cover, but according to Tancer’s research, even the top 10,000 keywords only bring in 18.5 percent of searches. So what is an SEO to do?

The key is to focus on keyword groups. By targeting one primary keyword and its variants per page, that page can be optimized for thousands of related tail keywords all at once.

Start by carefully planning the site with keyword grouping in mind. Mark Nunny of Wordtracker suggests categories as a great way to build around primary keywords. Each category then targets a specific primary and secondary keyword. Write a long article (1,000+ words is suggested) focusing on each of these keywords and their variants, and the tail keywords will appear naturally in the copy. Be sure to put the primary and secondary keywords in prominent locations such as the page title, headlines, and links.

By targeting the long tail, you probably won’t rank first for any trophy keywords. You will, however, gain access to considerably more potential customers through a broader variety of searches.

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